Pedophilia is a disorder or a psychological condition wherein an adult or a person older than 16 years of age is primarily and exclusively attracted towards children. The children, by definition have to be in pre-pubescent age, that is 13 years or younger. A person suffering from pedophilic disorder is unable to get attracted or sexually aroused towards other adults. While pedophilia is commonly confused with child molestations, that is not usually the case. Pedophiles may or may not act upon their attraction as their sense of morality is not damaged. Pedophilia is considered as a clinical paraphilia and is indicative of a mental disorder or anomaly. It is not a lifestyle choice and a pedophile has no control over his sexual preference.
Although pedophilia, in itself is not physically or mentally debilitating; it can have devastating consequences on one’s life. Men are more commonly known to have pedophilic tendencies as compared to women. By acting on desires and urges related to pedophilia, a person can adopt the role of child molester or sexual abuser. While many pedophiles don’t engage in actual intercourse, they do initiate inappropriate touching or force the child of their interest to perform certain acts which can be arousing. The risk of developing more complex psychiatric conditions and disorders is very high if a person fails to manage his pedophilic disorder.
Being a mental disorder, the true causal nature of pedophilia is not completely established. Although the condition is associated with sexual preference like homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. it does have an aspect of mental disorder as pedophilic acts can harm another person. Pedophilia is usually discovered by the affected person before or during puberty. But there are cases wherein a person can grow to adult age and then realize that his primary and exclusive sexual preference is towards pre-pubescent children. Commonly recognized causes are –
- Hereditary: Pedophilic tendencies can run in family and can eventually get amplified over generations
- Introversion: This is a highly enhanced personality trait in pedophiles and can be a major cause of developing pedophilic disorder. Elevated level of shyness and discomfort around adults may force pedophiles to be attracted towards and feel comfortable with children.
- Chronic depression: This is yet another personality trait which is profiled in most pedophiles. Depression from an early age can hinder sexual development and result in deviant or malfunctioning sexual understanding.
- Neuroticism: Though not to the extent of being pathological, pedophilia can also be a result of neuroticism and psychoticism.
- Cognitive distortions: Pedophilia can also be caused in a person suffering from cognitive distortions as he is able to view children as sexual beings and feel entitled to act upon their sexual preferences irrespective of the moral obligations.
- Response inhibition: Due to a childhood cranial injury, a person may develop malfunctioning response inhibition, which in turn can lead to development of pedophilic tendencies.
Pedophilic disorder is difficult to diagnose unless a patient is willing to seek help on his own or is caught as a child molester. The DSM has defined certain diagnostic criteria to ascertain the presence of pedophilic disorder. These criteria are –
- The person must be over the age of 16 and the child he is attracted to must be at-least 5 years younger to him
- The person must be acting upon pedophilic tendencies for six months or more in continuity
- A Non-exclusive pedophile prefers to be aroused by pre-pubescent children but can also be aroused by adult partners
- An exclusive pedophile or a true-pedophile can exclusively be aroused only in the company of pre-pubescent children or by fantasizing about children
- The diagnosis is not dependent on actual pedophilic act and even stocking of child-porn is considered as an indicator of pedophilic tendencies
There are no treatments available that can cure pedophilia, especially since the condition is pertaining to sexual preference and doesn’t develop to the pathological level in all patients. However, there are treatments available that can help in managing pedophilic disorder and tendencies. These include –
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: A pedophile is subject to cognitive restructuring so that he can learn to control his urges and desires and doesn’t act upon them to hurt a child. Relapse prevention is also part of this treatment where patient learns to recognize risky situations and exercise conscious self control.
- Reducing sex drive: Use of anti-androgens, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Gonadotrophin releasing hormone analogues are commonly used to reduce libido or sex drive in people who are unable to manage their pedophilic tendencies consciously.
- Behavioral interventions: Aversion therapy and covert sensitization techniques are adopted in these treatments to help a pedophile develop sexual arousal to adults and control pedophilic desires.